Crystalline Aura – Chapter 8

Crystalline Aura
Oracle of Light
By Cil Gregoire
Alaska Sci-Fi Queen

Chapter 8
An Unwanted Guest


Aaron sat across from Half Ear, the ever-present ancient pouch slung over Half Ear’s shoulder as they rode the northbound train up to Half Ear’s cabin. “That’s Jack Bean’s trail right there, where that snowmachiner is grooming trail,” Half Ear said pointing out the window in response to Aaron’s earlier inquiry. It was the first evidence of human habitation they’d seen from the train for quite a while. “But he ain’t there anymore.” Half Ear’s thin, reddish brown, unkempt hair barely concealed the remaining stub of his right ear, bitten off by a bear…or so he claimed. Aaron got the mile post number from the conductor. He would need it tomorrow, on his way back.

“Heard Jack sold his place to a woman,”…Half Ear continued, “and she’s living up there all alone.” Aaron settled back into his seat and let him talk. “A woman oughtn’t to be living out in the woods alone. It ain’t safe. Why, a woman comes into her time of the month, a bull moose or bear can smell it a mile away. And there ain’t anything more ornery than an aroused moose or grizzly.”

Aaron glanced at his crude, tough companion seated across from him. Some of the things Half Ear came out with simply took him by surprise. Not wanting to reveal to Half Ear that he knew the woman who had bought Jack’s place…and he had been shamefully shunned by her…Aaron turned back toward the window saying nothing.

Aaron and Half Ear had become good friends since the ride back into town. The two hit it off quite well, and after a few drinks, or rather, quite a few drinks at the bar, Half Ear let him crash at his downtown pad. Aaron felt it was his biggest stroke of luck so far. Living off a pension, Half Ear had money for cigarettes and beer…and shared generously.

Half Ear was planning a three-week stay at his cabin up the tracks, which he did periodically to dry out, but Aaron was only going up for the weekend. He would be taking the train back out the next day to watch over Half Ear’s place in town while he was gone. Secretively, Aaron formulated his plans. He would be making a stop on the way back to town. The frozen white landscape glided by as the little train clattered on. Silently brooding, Aaron gazed out at snow-covered, forested ridges that dropped down into snow-covered, rocky ravines that rose into snow-covered, rolling hills. Why would anyone want to live in this frozen wasteland?

“We’re almost there,” Half Ear announced. He stood up and headed for the baggage car. Aaron followed him.

“Are you going up for a while?” the conductor asked Half Ear.

“At least until after the stinking holidays are over. But he’s going back tomorrow,” Half Ear said, indicating Aaron. They piled packs, boxes and snowshoes in readiness by the baggage door. Then the train came to a stop in front of a low ridge bordering a small creek that ran under a layer of snow and ice. With more finesse that Aaron thought he was capable of, Half Ear climbed down to the frozen, white, wind-blown rail bed. Aaron handed their things down to him, then climbed down himself, shivering in the cold.

“You fellows stay warm!” the conductor called to them. Aaron watched the train continue on without him, until it disappeared from sight. He was stuck here now with no way out until tomorrow.

With packs on their backs and snowshoes on their feet, Half Ear led the way up the ridge. Aaron quickly learned that breaking trail uphill on snowshoes through deep snow with a heavy pack on your back was no easy task. Fortunately, the distance was not great. Soon the winter landscape leveled out and the cabin was in sight. Huffing and puffing for air, Aaron dumped his pack on the porch. Half Ear stepped deftly out of his snowshoes and onto the porch unlocking the front door while Aaron lit a cigarette, as soon as he could catch his breath, and surveyed his surroundings.

The large one-room cabin, with a sleeping loft, was built on a ridge overlooking the railroad tracks, the Susitna River, and the Alaska Range to the west. It certainly was a spectacular view Aaron had to admit. Behind the cabin, snow-draped forest stretched up the next hill. By the time Aaron finished his cigarette, Half Ear had a fire roaring in the woodstove and was hauling in the packs to unload them.

Aaron got out of his snowshoes and went in. It was still freezing cold inside of the cabin despite the roaring fire in the stove, but his attention was drawn away from the cold. In utter amazement, Aaron gazed around at cabin walls covered with guns, stuffed animal heads, traps, and furs. The man often surprised him. He didn’t know what to make of Half Ear most of the time. Unexpected wisdom and adeptness seemed to lurk behind the imbecile facade.

“Did you hunt and trap all these trophies yourself?” Aaron asked. Half Ear answered in shy modesty, “Why…yes, that I did.”

By the time the men had finished hauling in the rest of the food and supplies, the trail was fairly well packed, and the inside of the cabin was starting to feel warm. Half Ear reloaded the stove, and rolled a cigarette. “What kind of guns do you have here?” Aaron asked. He knew little about guns, and had practically no experience handling one.

“Well, there’s a 30-06 rifle over the window, and a 12 gauge shotgun over the door. I keep them loaded and in easy reach. A man never knows when he might have to defend himself out here in the woods.” Aaron silently agreed and wished he had some protection himself. “But my valuable guns I keep locked up in here.”

Half Ear removed a thick foam rubber cushion from a large window seat that concealed a securely locked gun locker. He unlocked it, and pulled out an arsenal of pistols and rifles, some in cases and holsters of their own. Aaron could hardly believe what he was seeing as Half Ear showed him the weapons, relating all he knew about each one, as he handled them with ease.

“Would you like to do some shooting?”

“Would I?”

Half Ear pulled out a couple of sturdy cardboard targets and handed Aaron a .357 magnum pistol. Then he chose a Colt .45 for himself. They loaded their guns from a cabinet next to the gun locker filled with reloading equipment and ammunition, and stuffed their coat pockets with ammo. Half Ear grabbed a hammer and some nails and a couple of pairs of cellophane-wrapped ear plugs from the kitchen drawer on the way out.

“I get a supply of these from the railroad workers from time to time,” Half Ear said handing Aaron a pack of ear plugs.

On snowshoes, Half Ear marched toward the hill, pacing off the distance, and nailed a target on the trunk of a birch tree at the edge of the clearing. He attached a second target on another tree standing next to it. These obviously were not the first trees to be sacrificed in this matter, for telltale ragged tree stumps, capped with snow dotted the area.

“Which target do you want?” he asked Aaron when he was done.

“I’ll take the one on the left.”

“Very well. You’re up first. Let’s see what you can do.”

Aaron raised the heavy pistol in his right hand, searching for the target. His hand wobbled so much he couldn’t take aim, so he placed his left hand over his right to steady it enough to line up his arm with the target. Then bracing himself for the recoil, he squeezed the trigger. The shot shattered the silence, reverberating into infinity, the bullet missing the target altogether.

“You shoot like a girl,” Half Ear chided.

Without hesitation, Half Ear lifted the Colt pistol in his hand with familiar confidence, aimed at the target on the right, and fired, splintering the quiet into a thousand echoes, hitting the bull’s eye.

By the end of the first round, Aaron had hit the edge of his target twice, while all six of Half Ear’s shots clustered on and around the bull’s eye. Despite his poor marksmanship, Aaron felt empowered by the gun in his hand and longed to own one.

Darkness was creeping in by the time they shot up all the ammo in their pockets. They retrieved their targets for inspection. A gaping hole yawned through the center of Half Ear’s target, while only six easy to count holes pierced Aaron’s, the closest, half the distance to the bull’s eye.

The next morning Aaron woke up coughing, his throat scratchy. He stretched out wrapped in his sleeping bag on the cushioned bench that concealed the gun chest serving as his bed. It was still dark and he could hear Half Ear snoring softly in the loft overhead. Aaron coughed again, suppressing it as much as he could so as not to wake up Half Ear. Drinking some water would help, Aaron decided. He got up, and finding the cup he had left on the table the night before, he made his way in the dark to the water bucket, feeling his way. The drink soothed his throat, and he shivered back to bed.

When he opened his eyes again, it was getting light out, which meant that it was already mid-day. The cabin was toasty warm, but quiet. Slipping out of the sleeping bag, Aaron felt a bit dizzy as he sat up. He waited for the dizziness to pass, then stood up and walked over to the stove. Through the window, he saw Half Ear approaching the cabin with an armload of wood.

“Good, you’re up,” Half Ear said jovially upon entering, and dropped the load of wood on the floor by the stove. “Ready for some more target practice?”

“Sure,” Aaron said with more enthusiasm than he felt. He wanted to shoot, but the cold air that entered the cabin with Half Ear chilled him, and he hugged even closer to the stove. Soon he started feeling weak and dizzy again and needed to sit down.

“You okay?” Half Ear asked as Aaron sat, pale and trembling, in the nearest chair.

“I must be coming down with something; I feel a bit chilled.” Aaron sneezed twice in rapid succession, and Half Ear tossed him a roll of toilet paper.

“There’s been a flu bug going around in town. I’ll fix you some breakfast that will mend you right up.” Half Ear became a whirl of activity as he whipped up eggs and patted sausage meat into patties. Soon odors Aaron found unappealing wafted through the room.

The worst of his chill having passed, Aaron stepped into his boots, slipped on his warm coat, throwing the hood over his head, and stepped outdoors into the cold air. His head felt light as he made his way to the outhouse. It would be good to get back to plumbing. A raven flew over, squawking loudly overhead, as Aaron returned to the cabin shivering. The odor of Half Ear’s cooking assaulted his nostrils turning his stomach.

“Breakfast is nearly ready. Here’s some water to wash up with.” Half Ear added hot water from a steaming kettle to the basin of fresh water on the stove, and handed Aaron a washcloth.

Breakfast was a heap of scrambled eggs with a generous serving of a dark sausage that had a rather strong taste. “What kind of meat is this?” Aaron asked after swallowing the first mouth full.

“Bear sausage. I shot the bear last spring. “Good, huh?” Aaron didn’t really think so, but decided not to disagree, eating what he could force down, while Half Ear wolfed it down with obvious relish.

After a hearty breakfast and a couple of cups of strong coffee, Aaron felt somewhat better, and the two men stepped out to target shoot. Aaron shivered in the sterile, cold air huddled deeply in his heavy coat seeking warmth. Soon the temporary adrenaline rush Aaron got from shooting, helped to override his bodily discomforts. Half Ear holed out the center of his target again, but the tree behind it, though tattered, remained standing. Aaron was also satisfied with his results as he compared today’s target with yesterday’s. Twice as many shots had hit the target, and one hole was only an inch from the bull’s eye.

As they prepared to go down to the tracks and wait for the train, Half Ear surprised Aaron with a gift, the .357 magnum pistol he had been target practicing with, loaded and ready, complete with holster. Genuinely touched, Aaron accepted the gun with hearty thanks. It was indeed a valuable gift. At last he felt he had a true friend.

A few breaks in the clouds added color to the sky as they hiked down to wait for the train. Soon the color would fade into night. The trail was now packed enough to manage without snowshoes. Aaron had felt okay for most of the day, but with the waning daylight and dropping temperatures, his chills returned. Fortunately, they didn’t have long to wait. A train whistle blew in the near distance. Then Aaron was bidding his friend farewell as he boarded the train with his pack, welcoming the warm comfort inside.

“Where to?” the conductor asked and Aaron gave him the milepost number and handed him a ticket Half Ear had provided.

“Are you going to visit a friend?” the conductor asked, noting the mile post.

“Yes.” Aaron didn’t offer any further friendly conversation, so the conductor continued down the aisle, swaying gently to the rollicking clatter of the train.

Aaron stared out the window at the frigid landscape. The snow-covered rocky ravines, rolling hills, beaver ponds, and forested ridges flashed by in reverse order, until the train slowed once again, and the conductor jostled back down the aisle toward him. “It’s your stop,” the conductor informed him. Grabbing his pack with the pistol inside, he followed the conductor out the passenger car to the stairs, and disembarked into the cold. To his surprise, he was not alone. A man lifted up a large duffle bag into the baggage car, then headed toward him. Aaron tried to step aside and avoid interaction, but the man purposely extended his hand and quickly introduced himself, “Vince. Vince Bradley. And you are?”

“Aaron,” he answered reluctantly. Recognizing the name of Rahlys’ ex-boyfriend, for Maggie had filled him in on the history, Vince hesitated boarding the train.

“Ready to go, Vince?” the conductor called, fidgeting over the delay. Still Vince hesitated, eying Aaron suspiciously. Would Rahlys be alright alone with this guy? Maggie had said he was harmless.

“Yes,” Vince said, deciding it was none of his business and boarded the train.

Aaron watched the train pull away…its warmth and light glowing through the windows in the twilight. With a sinking feeling, he stood alone in the growing cold and darkness, weak and chilled, not sure he had made the right decision as he watched the train dwindle out of sight.

Aaron turned away from the tracks toward the woods. The groomed trail was easy to follow. He hardly noticed a second trail connecting to it from the north, and continued straight in the direction the snowmachiner had been facing when Half Ear had pointed out Trapper Bean’s trail from the train the day before. Perhaps it was the snowmachiner who got on the train. Who was this Vince Bradley, Aaron wondered. Did Rahlys have a new boyfriend?

The trail climbed, then leveled off, then climbed and leveled off again…and still there was no cabin in sight. The cold air seeped in to his skin, chilling him through, despite his exertion and the warm clothing he wore. He shivered, feeling weaker with each step he took. The beckoning path glimmered in the soft, early moonlight filtering through shredded clouds in a darkening sky. A trail of such perfection had to lead to somewhere, he reasoned, and continued on.

Aaron went from freezing to steaming hot, and broke out into a profuse sweat. Weakness slowed his progress as energy drained from his body. Peeling open his outer layers of clothing, he exposed his feverish body to the cold air and pressed onward, forcing one foot in front of the other. In a state of feverish delirium he continued forward envisioning Rahlys, so meticulous and wholesome, administering to him with tender care. All he had to do was make it to her.

Then the heat subsided, bringing on the worst of chills. Shivering uncontrollably, he came to the third rise, and detected the muffled sound of a generator. Relief flooded through him…someone was here, if not Rahlys, then someone else. Surely even the worst recluse would not just let him die on the trail. The steepness of the rise brought Aaron to his knees. Slowly he crawled up the final uphill climb to behold golden light streaming out of cabin windows and wispy smoke rising from the chimney… before collapsing in the snow.

Aaron slept, barely stirring. Warned by the Oracle of Aaron’s approach, Rahlys had seethed with fury. How dare he come and shatter my sphere of tranquility and purpose! Reluctantly, she had come to terms with the crushing fact that she would have an unwanted guest for a whole week, while waiting for another train out. But rage had turned to humane compassion as she felt his struggle, his thoughts so feverishly distorted they were impossible to read.

Nearly dragging him indoors, she helped him out of his pack and some of his clothing, and settled him in the daybed downstairs. He was as compliant as a lamb and went down with hardly a word. Covering him warmly, she thought he was already asleep when he opened shining, dark, feverish eyes and whispered, “Thanks, Baby,” before falling into a deep slumber. The showdown would have to wait.

Rahlys stared at his ruthlessly handsome face as she checked on him from hour to hour to make sure he was still breathing. Watching him, her heart constricted in renewed pain as she relived the discovery of Aaron’s infidelities. How could she have fallen for him? Why was it so hard to get it right when making such an important decision? But of course thinking is least rational when in the throes of making choices of the heart.

Hours later, Aaron’s undershirt was soaked with sweat. She thought about waking him up to change it, and reached for his pack to look for a dry one. But when Rahlys unzipped the pack and looked inside, there were no clothes…just a gun in a holster. A cold shiver ran down her spine. Carefully she checked to see if it was loaded…and it was! Had he come to kill her? She hadn’t read that thought when he arrived, but his thoughts had been distorted by fever.

She knew that Aaron wasn’t the most endearing of people, but he wasn’t violent. So why was he carrying a gun? Rahlys unloaded the pistol, teleporting the bullets into the woods for safe keeping, and returned the empty pistol to Aaron’s pack. Then she conjured down an oversized t-shirt from upstairs that she used as a nightshirt, but when she tried to wake him to change, his eyes barely fluttered open, so she let him rest, and went to bed.

Upstairs, the crystal glowed alertly in its snug leather pouch. The moonlight streamed into the bedroom window as the moon ascended the night sky, splashing light across the rug on the floor. Rahlys meant to sleep lightly in case Aaron woke during the night and needed her, but it was morning before she opened her eyes again. She jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, and hurried downstairs to check on him. On the daybed Aaron continued to sleep, his forehead now cool to the touch. By the time he finally stirred, the cabin was toasty warm. She had drunk a whole pot of coffee by herself while rehearsing what she would say to him.

“Good morning, how are you feeling?”


Relieved to see him finally awake, Rahlys brought over the t-shirt she had laid out for him and a fresh, cold glass of water. “You need to drink some liquids. You sweated like crazy last night.” She knew her words sounded forced, but she was calm.

Aaron sat up weakly, and touched the crusty undershirt, now dry from body heat, sticking to his body.

“Here.” She handed him the glass.

Obediently, he drank half the glass of water, then laid down again as though the effort had exhausted him. “Thank you.”

“Let’s change your shirt.”

Aaron sat up again, and she helped him into the clean shirt.

“I need to step out on the porch,” he said, bringing his feet to the floor and reaching for his pants. When he was dressed and on his feet, she helped him into his coat, and he stepped outside into the cold, crisp air. Soon he wobbled back in feeling dizzy, light-headed, and weak. Letting his coat drop to the floor, he headed back to the daybed and lay down again, slipping under the covers without removing his pants. Soon he was back asleep.

While Aaron slept, Rahlys headed out to do chores. She wanted to be outdoors breathing fresh air. The rips in the clouds had once again closed tightly shut, creating yet another gloomy, low-light day. In just a few more days, winter solstice would finally be reached, then the sun would start its slow ascent. The daily gain of daylight will be miniscule at first, only seconds a day, but gradually that lengthening will grow to minutes and over time dissolve darkness into the endless daylight of summer. Eventually.

Rahlys made her way to the woodshed and teleported a supply of firewood to the porch. She also needed kindling. Choosing a dry spruce round, she set it on end on the chopping block. But instead of lifting an axe, she concentrated intently, drawing in energy from the elemental forces around her, and focused that energy on severing the molecular bonds in the wood. The spruce round cracked sharply as it splintered apart into sticks of kindling that clattered to the frozen ground, forming a ring around the chopping block.

Firewood done, Rahlys sauntered down to the spring with empty water containers and a sled, dilly dallying along the trail while the containers filled. A flock of grosbeaks passed through the forest around her, flittering from tree to tree, feasting on energy-packed leaf buds awaiting spring. Two eye-catching rosy red males escorted three harder to spot drab olive green females on their relentless mission to consume and expend energy.

As the grosbeaks moved beyond her viewing she cast a fleeting eye on the sauna a short ways down the hillside. Of course…a sauna, that was the solution, she realized with sudden delight. Until now, Rahlys had felt that readying a sauna just for her didn’t justify the accelerated consumption of her valuable firewood supply so she had been opting for a daily pan bath by the stove instead. But there was not enough privacy to pan bathe now that Aaron was here, so a sauna was the perfect solution.

Rahlys had grown up taking steam baths on her parent’s homestead. Every other day, her father would split wood for the sauna, building a hot fire in the barrel stove that heated the little log building so hot it made you gasp for air as you entered. Water poured over hot rocks encircling a glowing red stove, sent out blistering hot waves of steam. At the end, they would douse their bodies with cold water, or throw themselves in the snow.

Rahlys mentally pressed a trail into the snow leading to the bathhouse, and teleported herself there. Brushing the snow off the steps with her feet, she stepped into the building. A slit of a window looking out toward the creek let in the gloomy light of day. Since it would be getting dark soon, Rahlys decided to let the trail set up overnight and get an earlier start on the sauna tomorrow. She could survive one more night without a bath.

Aaron turned over and opened his eyes when Rahlys walked into the cabin with the containers of water. “It’s about time you wake up again. Are you ready to try and eat something?”

“Maybe. Where have you been?”

“Out doing chores. I broke the trail to the sauna. Tomorrow we can fire it up. How are you feeling?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll be able to tell after I’ve been up for a while.”

“Well, I have some chicken noodle soup I can heat up.” Tension was growing in her voice despite her resolve to remain calm.

“That sounds great.”

Rahlys emptied the soup in a pan, added water, and put it on the woodstove to heat. “How is it that you arrived by a southbound train?” she asked. She could feel her resolve spiraling out of control.

“I’ve been staying with Half Ear in town. He has a cabin up the tracks a few miles north of here and invited me up to see it.” Rahlys knew that Half Ear was another colorful local character and received a mental picture of him from Aaron’s fleeting reflections as he spoke. So that was where he got the gun! “Half Ear pointed out your trail from the train. He’s staying up there at his cabin for a while, and I’ll be house-sitting his place in town.”

“So why didn’t you stay on the train and go back to town?”

Aaron didn’t speak, but she could read his thoughts. He resented her refusal to have him, to be with him. There was no doubt that he even loved her in a way, but more as a comforter and provider than as a soul mate. And he was jealous of Vince.

“Vince…,” she said out loud without meaning to.

“Is this Vince fellow your new boyfriend?” he asked, evading her other question.

“No, why are you here?”

This time he answered. “Well, I thought if we were maybe stuck out in a log cabin in the woods, where we would be forced to spend some time together, maybe things would work out for us again. Sounds sort of romantic, don’t you think?”

“Aaron, we will never be a couple again. I don’t love you. When you learn to accept that, maybe, just maybe, we can be friends…distant friends.”

“Why can’t you forgive me?”

“I don’t want to forgive you. I want you to go away and leave me alone. I’ve moved on. You need to do the same!”

“Why have you done this? Why did you leave your successful career, and swank apartment, all the parties, and your friends, to move to the middle of nowhere?”

Rahlys knew that Aaron wouldn’t place value on the things she cherished, but she outlined it for him as best she could. “My career was a boiling cauldron of stress. I lived from one deadline to the next, applying my talent to artfully duping the public into consumerism. The apartment was sterile, and the parties…ugh! For you the parties were a fabulous arena for picking up beautiful women, but for me they were excruciatingly meaningless. And my only true friend came with me.”

A long quiet of hurtful resentment filled the space between them. Then Aaron broke the silence. “You don’t even have a bathroom,” he said getting up, preparing to go outside.

“I have time and freedom to live and paint.”

Aaron left the cabin without answering. By the time he returned, weak and shivering from the excursion, Rahlys was calm.

“I need to lie down again,” he said shedding some clothes and snuggling under the covers. Soon he was fast asleep. The uneaten soup boiled away on the stove.

Yet another cloudy, gloomy day dawned. It was becoming doubtful to Rahlys that the sun would ever shine again. On the bright side, clouds blanketing the earth kept temperatures from going subzero, which would make the sauna easier to heat.

When she came downstairs, Aaron was sitting up, studying her most recent paintings, and looking more alert than he had in days. He had little to no interest in art, but found himself drawn into the work before him. He barely glanced at the painting resting on the easel, its colors subtle, but vibrant with motion, of a snowmobiler breaking trail under snow-laden trees after a heavy snowfall, but he could hardly tear his gaze away from the unfinished painting of a log cabin at dusk beckoning invitingly with warm light streaming from its windows, and wood smoke drifting lazily from the chimney.

“You do nice work,” he said looking up as she came down the stairs. With hostilities now defused, they spoke to one another with cool civility.

“Thanks, I’m glad you like it.”

While Aaron went down for a mid-morning nap, Rahlys headed out with newspaper and a lighter to fire up the sauna. A powdered sugar dusting of snow fell as she conjured over kindling and firewood from the woodshed to the bathhouse. When she opened the stove, ash fell from the ash-filled fire box, so she conjured over the metal bucket and scoop she used to shovel out the stoves from the woodshed. Being careful not to remove the layer of sand at the bottom of the stove that protected it from burn out, she shoveled out the ash and carried the bucket of ash out of the bathhouse. It was still snowing as she stepped off the trail into the deep snow and broadcasted the entire contents of her bucket with one broad sweep of her arms. The ashes flew up and out, landing shockingly black on the pure white snow.

Rahlys stared in horror at her desecration of such purity, but even as she watched, the fine snow coming down transformed the black streak into a dark shade of gray. As more snow fell, the dark gray turned into increasingly lighter shades of gray, creating a virtual study of shades that unfolded before her eyes. Mesmerized, Rahlys continued to watch until the lightest gray turned to cleansing white.

When she had a roaring fire in a clean stove, she conjured full water containers from the spring, pouring their contents into large tubs, then teleported the empties back to the spring. After filling the tubs, she brought over more wood to add to the fire later. When all was done, Rahlys sat on one of the benches and listened to the pleasant, soft roar of the fire, the tiny room already comfortably warm. It felt good to have a warm space to herself away from Aaron. She waited and loaded the stove again, before heading back up to the cabin.

Aaron stirred, waking from his nap. He thought maybe he was doing better, and might even be able to handle a sauna. Getting up, he dressed and walked around. Then he sat at the kitchen table and ate a little. They spoke, but only on the most mundane of topics, and after several minutes of strained conversation, Rahlys went back down to the bathhouse to reload the stove.

Hot air rushed out as she opened the door to the sauna and stepped in, shutting the door quickly behind her to hold the heat. The tub of water on the stove was starting to sizzle. She loaded the stove once again and stepped out into the cool snowfall.

Aaron was still sitting up staring out the window when she reentered the cabin, but it was evident as he turned toward her with glassy eyes and headed back to his bed, that he was not yet recovered enough for a sauna. Promising to fire up the bathhouse again in a couple of days when he was stronger, Rahlys set him up with wash water, soap, and towels. Then grabbing towels for herself, and her robe, she rushed down to the waiting solitude of the bathhouse.

Rahlys hung her robe in the cold dressing room, undressed to bare skin, and slipped quickly into the sauna room seeking warmth. Exquisite heat, and a flood of memories, engulfed her cold body. Parched, dry air filled her lungs.

She reached for the metal dipper in the pan on the bench and quickly drew back her hand, the handle too hot to touch. Grabbing it with her washcloth, she submersed it into the tub of cold water on the floor. Now cool to the touch, Rahlys used the dipper to dribble hot water from the tub on top of the stove onto the heated rocks around it, sending up billowing waves of hot steam. Then she stretched out on a bench, allowing herself to relax. Sweat and tension oozed out through her pores, as her mind expanded into thought.

In just three more days Vince will be back on the northbound passenger train and Maggie will be here too, she hoped. Then on the following day Aaron will finally be able to leave on the train going south. She just had to get through the rest of the week, she told herself as sweat beaded on her breasts and abdomen and trickled down her sides.

It hadn’t been bad really. Since Aaron slept most of the time, she still had had time to paint, and he’d been too sick to be threatening. Sweat poured from her body as she gasped from the heat. She sat up and poured cold water over her hot skin, dousing her body heat. Then she dribbled more water onto the hot rocks, vaporizing it into steam before settling down again to sweat some more. Lulled by heat and relaxation, the Oracle’s sudden message came as a shock.

Aaron has found the crystal.


While Rahlys steamed, Aaron washed up with the water she had set up for him. When he was finished, he slipped on his pants, and put on the undershirt Rahlys had washed and dried for him. Then he washed his underwear and the loaned t-shirt in the warm soapy water left over from his bath, and after rinsing them out, hung them up by the stove to dry. With nothing else to do, Aaron sat down and watched the fading daylight. Why would Rahlys choose to live this way, hauling wood and water and using an outhouse? She didn’t even have a television!

Bored, Aaron got up and walked around inspecting the living room and kitchen. The furnishings were sparse. There was a table and some chairs by a window overlooking the yard. A massive armchair and the daybed, both made of logs, served as living room furniture. Even the cupboards and drawers contained only bare essentials. Not finding anything of interest downstairs, Aaron wandered upstairs to the bedroom.

The bed was made, of course; even in the woods Rahlys would not fail to make her bed in the morning. He looked at the darkening view from the window. There was still no sign of Rahlys returning from the bathhouse. Out of curiosity, he opened the top drawer of the chest next to her bed and found a small, soft, leather pouch, buried under socks.

What is this? Picking it up, he opened it, and emptied the contents into his hand. To his astonishment, a softly glowing cylindrical crystal fell out, brightening as it touched his hand…and then vanished into thin air.

I was born in New Orleans, grew up in the Louisiana swamp, and then settled in Alaska as a young woman. After decades of living the Alaska dream, teaching school in the bush, commercial fishing in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound, and building a log cabin in the woods, life had provided me with plenty to write about. The years of immersion in the mystique and wonder, and challenges and struggles, of living in remote Alaska molded my heart and soul. It is that deep connection I share with my readers.